Presentation Challenge: How To Successfully Talk To Teens – And Survive!

by drjim on November 12, 2008

Presenting To Teens Takes A Special Talent In Order To Get Them To Listen

Presenting To Teens Takes A Special Talent In Order To Get Them To Listen

Anytime we speak in public it can be a challenge that gets our heart racing and causes us to start to sweat. However, if you really want to take the stress up a notch, then just try talking to a group of teens and watch your heart either start to beat double time or just stop altogether. Why do we have such a hang-up about presenting to teens? I suspect it’s because we don’t quite know how best to talk to them: they are no longer kids, but they are not yet adults either. We simply don’t feel that we know HOW to talk to them. Well get in line – I’m sure that their parents feel the same way! Let’s have a talk with Pandora Scooter who for the past 15 years has been teaching and putting on workshops for teenagers all the time. She’s got some tips that we can all use to get over ourselves and get on with the presentation…

Scooter points out that even the most experienced speakers seem to have a deep set fear of talking to a group of teenagers. When asked why they fear this audience more than a hall filled with over a 1,000 adults, they come back with answers such as “They won’t care about what I have to say”, “They won’t listen to me”, “I’m afraid of them”. It turns out that just like with everything else in life, there is a grain of truth in what these speakers are saying. Specifically, often times teenagers will look like they aren’t paying attention in order to appear “cool” to their friends – even though they may be hanging on your every word. If you can give them something to focus their attention on, then they will listen to you and you can make an impact. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Challenge Them Right Off The Bat: Your teen audience probably has been told to be there – they didn’t decide to come by themselves. This means that they are expecting you to treat them just like every other adult does – assuming that they care about what you are going to be talking about. Turn this assumption on its head. Ask them a question, get them to raise their hands or stand up. Do SOMETHING to make sure that they realize that this is not just another boring presentation.
  • Stop Talking About Yourself: In a nutshell, unless you are a rock star, your teen audience won’t really care about where you’ve been or what awards you have won. Keep your introduction short and sweet – what’s your name and why are you here?
  • Don’t Be A Pushover: If you take the time to be honest and direct with your teen audience, then they will respond. Almost without fail, there will other discussions that start up while you are talking or there will be people who are clearly not paying attention. You need to not ignore these events, but rather point them out and work out what is going on with the offenders. Simply by showing that you are paying attention to them and that you are not going to ignore them. This will catch their attention, and most of the time will solve the problem.
  • Say “Thank You”: By showing respect for your teen audience and expressing gratitude to them for their participation in your presentation you will capture their hearts and minds. This may seem like such a small thing, but saying “thank you” half-way through your presentation shows that you have something to base it on and warms the audience up for the rest of your presentation.
  • Use Your Eyes: Eye contact can be the key to making your presentation a success. By making direct eye contact with members of your audience, you can ensure that they are engaged. You can take this one step further by calling out individual listeners and working them into your presentation “this gentlemen in black seems to be agreeing with me”, etc. For an audience that is more used to being ignored, this will put them on their toes as they eagerly wait to see who get called out next.
  • Be Available: At the end of a presentation to adults, you would probably tell them how they could get in contact with you if they needed any additional information. Make sure that you do the same thing for your teen audience. Hey, very few if any of the teens will actually take you up on your offer of further contact, but the simple fact that you made the offer will go a long way in gaining their respect and may make your message take hold at a deeper level.

Have you ever had an opportunity to present to a teen audience? How did it turn out – was it a success or was it a disaster? Did the teens pay attention while you were presenting or did they have their own conversations? Do you feel that you connected with any of the teens? Did anyone seek to contact you after you were done? Leave a comment and let me know what you are thinking.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Maven January 12, 2010 at 8:17 pm

I fall into the category of experienced presenter terrified of talking to teens! Yesterday I did a presentation for a grade 10 class in an incredibly rough inner sity school and all I could think about was “Kill me now!”

I love this list of tips and have bookmarked your site.

Thankyou!

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Dr. Jim Anderson January 16, 2010 at 10:09 am

Maven: Good for you! Yeah, I know how you feel — you sorta wonder if your words are going to have any impact on your audience when you are dealing with teens. Take heart! The folks who study this stuff tell us that despite how tough or disinterested they look on the outside, they are really still little kids on the inside and they do want to hear what we have to say. It’s worth the effort even if you can’t tell right off the bat. Farmers don’t plant a seed and then step back and say “where’s my plant?” — these things take time! Keep at it!

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Jane Genovese January 15, 2011 at 11:29 pm

Really good advice. I’ve been working as a public speaker to teenagers for the past 5 years in Australia. It’s not so scary anymore (I actually love it) but some groups can be really difficult to engage.

I think you need to change the energy and pace every 10 minutes or so (lecturing for extended periods of time does not work!), otherwise you can easily loose a teenage audience. If you can get teenagers to experience what you’re talking about (e.g. how multitasking doesn’t work) through an engaging activity that can be very powerful (you should see their faces light up as they really get what you’ve been talking about!).

It also helps to really get into their world. I njow include characters from their favourite shows (e.g. Family guy) on some of my slides. I resisted doing this for a long time but it seems to make a difference and some students feel more comfortable with you when they see a funny character they like on the screen.

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Dr. Jim Anderson January 21, 2011 at 8:54 am

Jane: Wow! It sure sounds like you have mastered talking to one of the most difficult audiences out there! I was struck by the simple fact that you made — in order to talk to teens, a speaker has to be “tuned in” to them. You need to be able to monitor their level of interest in what you are saying and adjust if you feel that you are losing them. Talk about a challenge! Good luck!

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